June 4, 2013

Falafels with Home Made Pita and Creamy Tahini Sauce



Food is deeply personal and becomes rooted in us at a very young age. For most of us, our comfort food  is what we grew up eating. The special meals our parents made for us in celebration, or even just the simple daily meals we ate together as a family. After I moved away from home, this was one meal I missed the most and looked forward every time I went back to visit.

A few years ago in France, after sampling some of the best French food ever, Brian and I found ourselves at a falafel stand in Paris for lunch.  Apparently, Lenny Kravitz dubbed it as "the best falafel stand in the world"- and while I won't go that far, I will admit, we went back later that evening for dinner, then embarrassingly, for lunch the next day before flying home. I have to chuckle a little when I think of my favorite food in France being a falafel stand. But for me, it's my comfort food. This along with a big bowl of tabouli, baba ganoush and tzatziki - it is my idea of the perfect meal. It always brings me back home.

Falafels are basically a bean fritter made from garbanzo beans or fava beans, originating from Egypt. They were created somewhere around 400AD by the Copts, the native christians of Egypt, as a replacement for meat, during Lent.  Egyptians have a different name for falafels.... they call them taamia.  My dad is a Coptic Egyptian and he remembers his mother making taamia for him with fava beans rather than garbanzos.  Because falafels are primarily made from beans, they are good cheap source of protein, and their popularity spread throughout the Middle East. Today they can be found around the world, in most cities, even Paris, often in the form of street food. 

One thing I encourage you to do, is to learn how to cook the dishes that comfort you, from the people  who made them for you (if possible).  It is one of the best gifts you can give yourself. When I feel homesick, I make these.






This falafel recipe is tried and true. It is simple, delicious and authentic.

There are several tips to making good falafels that are light and won't fall apart when frying:

1.Use dry garbanzo beans that have been soaked overnight, not cooked, not canned. Raw fresh green garbanzos work great too.
2. Don't over blend. The falafel "dough" must be granular rather than smooth.
3. Adding a little baking soda keeps them light.
4. Lastly,  let them "rest" at least 20 minutes before frying to allow them to bind.
5. Fry in a non-stick pan or cast iron skillet, in a generous amount of oil to prevent sticking.

If done this way, you will not need to add flour or bread crumbs....keeping them gluten free.






Place the drained, soaked beans in a food processor and pulse until coarsely ground. Sometimes my mom would substitute half of the garbanzo beans with fava beans, which is a more of the Egyptian version. 




Add the rest of the ingredients and pulse until combined, scraping down sides as necessary. Don't over blend. It still needs to be granular looking, not smooth like humus... and should look something like this. To achieve this you must pulse, scrap sides, repeat. 




Refrigerate for 30 minutes and then roll into 1 1/2 inch balls.



In a medium sized hot skillet, with a 1/4 inch of oil, without crowding, fry falafels in batches, turning constantly and  gently with a spoon, getting all sides golden brown. You want them to cook for about 5-7 minutes in the skillet, without getting too dark brown, so adjust heat accordingly so they don't burn. I always do a tester so I can fiddle with the heat.  Normally the heat is somewhere around medium to med low.  Place the ones that are done in a warm oven while you cook the rest.

Use a high temp oil like canola, rice bran, peanut, coconut, or vegetable oil.








Making home made pita bread is an easy project - and doing this with your kids is especially fun. Of course, store bought pita bread is always a great option, if pressed for time.

I remember making pita bread with my mom when I was little, and I'll never forget the feeling of complete surprise, seeing the flat dough, magically puff up in the hot oven.

With the rising time, its about a 3 hour commitment, so plan accordingly.





A few tips to make pita that will puff up in the oven:

1. Let the dough rise until it has doubled in size. This is really important. Using quick rising yeast will cut your time almost in half. (Otherwise plan on a good 3 hours of rising time).
Once the dough has risen and you have made the balls, let them rise again for at least 15 minutes, before rolling out.

2.When ready to bake, make sure the oven is thoroughly preheated to 500F  with the baking sheet in it.  The baking sheet or bread stone should be hot. If it is not, your pita may not puff up. Bake on the lowest rack.  They cook very quickly, so don't walk away.

3. Resist opening the oven door until ready to flip them.

4. When done, place them in a large zip lock bag, which will keep the steam in and keep them from drying out.

Play around with making mini pitas, for bite-sized falafel appetizers. You can use a round cookie cutter, if you want uniformity, or even use other shaped cookie cutters (like a heart, or flower).




For basic pita bread, roll the dough into a log and divide into 12 golf ball- sized balls. Let rest 10-15 minutes, covered with a towel.


On a floured surface ...roll out balls to 1/4 inch thick round, about 5-6 inches in diameter.



Place the rounds on the hot pan and bake for 3-4 minutes. Resist the temptation to open the oven door, and look in through the window if possible.  After 4 minutes, pita should puff up. Turn over with a metal spatula and bake 1-2 more minutes. Place in a plastic bag to help retain moisture.







For a delicious appetizer or snack....brush with olive oil and sprinkle with zaatar.
Zaatar is a middle eastern spice mix that can either be bought or made.
Place in a warm oven for 10 minutes and serve with humus or tahini or baba ganoush.





Falafels served simply and traditionally really only need a couple of condiments.... a creamy tahini sauce and pickled turnips, and hot sauce. Of course, if you are putting on the whole spread, baba ganoush, tzatziki  and tabouli salad are a really nice addition. 





Pickled turnips are easy and fast. Peel them, slice them and place them on the stove with the pickling liquid. Once they come to a simmer, remove and place in the fridge. The beautiful color comes from adding a few slices of beet. The pickled turnip gives the sandwich a nice brightness in both flavor and color.




Spread the pita with the creamy tahini, add a few pickled turnips along with the falafels and garnish with fresh cilantro leaves. 






Lastly, if you are on a gluten free diet, or just want to try something different, falafel salads are a good alternative. Use any green (this one has baby kale) and toss in any of your favorite veggies  (tomatoes, cucumber, bell pepper, olives). Below is simple recipe for a Lemony Tahini Dressing that I love and make often.  I spoon it on many other things as well, like crispy tofu or grilled veggies. 








I recently started posting my recipes on Pinterest and would love to have you take a look at some of my Pinterest boards. Pinterest really helps spread the word about my blog. Every time you "pin" a photo, it links it to back to this recipe. It's a great way to save recipes on your own boards and share with friends…so get pinning!!


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Ingredients
Falafels:
  • 2 Cups Garbanzo beans -uncooked, soaked over night, drained 
  • 1 C Chopped Cilantro ( stems ok) 
  • ½ of small white onion, diced 
  • 2 garlic cloves- 
  • 1 small chili- finely diced
  • 1 T Coriander 
  • 1 T Cumin 
  • 1 tsp baking soda 
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt ( add more to taste) 
  • canola oil for frying
Instructions:

In a food processor, pulse beans and salt until they are the consistency of very coarse sand. (See photo) Add the rest of the ingredients, pulsing, scraping down sides, until it forms a bright green paste with a fine crumb. Don't overwork it- it should not be smooth, but rather quite granular. Refrigerate for at least 20 minutes or overnight. 
Form round, slightly smaller than golf ball sized balls and flatten just slightly. In a non stick pan or cast iron skillet, heat a ¼ inch of canola oil on med high heat until it sizzles when a pea sized portion of falafel is dropped in. Turn heat to medium.  Start with one tester falafel.  Fry until all sides are a deep golden brown- this should take about 6-7 minutes. If it browns too quickly, turn the heat down a bit.  If the falafels stick to the pan,  try dredging the falafel in a little flour.  Place in a warm oven until ready to use for up to 20 minutes. Serve with warm pita bread ( or tortillas) with creamy tahini sauce, cucumber yogurt sauce, diced tomato, pickled turnips and fresh cilantro leaves.

Quick Turnip Pickles:

  • 2 medium turnips, peeled and thinly sliced.
  • 2- 3 slices of a small red beet, ( for color)
  • 1/2 sliced onion ( option)
  • 2 sliced garlic cloves
  • 3/4 C red wine vinegar
  • 3/4 C water
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • Additions: peppercorns, coriander seeds, mustard seeds, dill ( all optional)


Bring all to a boil in a medium sized pot, remove form heat, refrigerate until ready to eat.

Creamy Tahini Sauce:

  • 3/4 Cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 1/4 C tahini paste
  • 1-2 garlic cloves
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • cracked pepper
  • Juice of one medium lemon

Blend all in the food processor, until smooth. This may seem salty, but trust me it works in the big picture, when all the components are combined.

Cucumber Yogurt Sauce

  • 1 Cup plain thick greek yogurt
  • 2 small persian cucumbers cut lengthwise, then thinly sliced ( or 1 C english cucumber) Skin ok.
  • 2 -3 T chopped fresh mint, dill, italian parsley or cilantro ( or a combination is nice)
  • 1-2 T lemon juice
  • 1-2 minced garlic cloves
  • ½ tsp kosher salt -or salt to taste. 
  • pepper to taste, white pepper is a nice touch.
  • pinch of cayenne or squirt of sirracha sauce.


Place all ingredients in a medium sized bowl, stir and refridgerate until ready to serve.


Lemony Tahini Dressing ( for a falafel salad)

  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1/2 C tahini 
  • 1/2 C water
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 T chopped parsley

Toss a little dressing with your favorite greens ( I use kale and arugula), tomato, cucumber and or any salad veggie you like,  and top with warm falafels.

Pita Bread Recipe:
Ingredients:

  • 1 package quick rising yeast
  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 3 cups all purpose flour, bread flour- or a mix of whole wheat and white
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 1 cup lukewarm water

Pita Instructions:
Dissolve yeast in 1/2 cup of warm water. Add sugar and stir until dissolved. Let sit for 10-15 minutes until water is frothy. Combine flour and salt in large bowl. Make a small depression in the middle of flour and pour yeast water in depression. Slowly add 1 cup of warm water, and stir with wooden spoon or rubber spatula until elastic. Place dough on floured surface and knead for 10-15 minutes. (Alternately, place in a stand mixer and kneed with dough hook attachment on med -low for 10 minutes) When the dough is no longer very sticky and is smooth and elastic, it has been successfully kneaded.

Coat large bowl with olive oil and place dough in bowl. Turn dough upside down so all of the dough is coated. Cover bowl with a kitchen towel and allow to sit in a warm place for 2- 3 hours, or until it has doubled in size.

Once doubled, roll out in a rope, and pinch off 12 small pieces. Place balls on floured surface. Let sit covered for 10 minutes. Preheat oven to 500 F and make sure rack is at the very bottom of oven. Be sure to also preheat your baking sheet, or pizza stone. It is crucial that this is hot too.

Roll out each ball of dough with a rolling pin into circles. Each should be about 5-6 inches across and 1/4 inch thick, no thinner. Let rest for a few minutes before baking. By the time you get done rolling them all out, the first ones will be ready to bake.

Bake each pita for 3-4 minutes until the bread puffs up. Turn over and bake for 1- 2 minutes.

It's good to start with one tester.

If your pita is not puffing up, make sure you oven is truly at a very hot 500 F, and do NOT open the oven door during the first 3-4 minutes of baking. Make sure your pan is hot too. If pitas are rolled too thin, sometimes they will not puff up. Lastly, if the dough is not given the proper time to rise (doubling in size) they also may not puff up.

Remove each pita with a spatula from the baking sheet and add additional pitas for baking. Take spatula and gently push down puff. Immediately place in large a storage bag.... this will keep the steam in and keep them moist.

You can use a large cookie cutter for mini pitas, to get that uniformed look, perfect for an appetizer- sized falafel.

Details:
Prep time: 30Cook time: Total time: Yield: 12 pitas







25 comments:

  1. Wow what a great post. I want to try all of these recipes. Thanks!

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  2. Isn't it amazing what a warm fuzzy memory a comfort food can do? I have many Greek family foods my Grandma and Mom made and just the smell can send me back!

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  3. I love a good Falafel. Nice to be offered the complete package with pittas and sauce recipes too, thanks.

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  4. Now i'm starving with this. :)

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  5. Homemade Falafels have been on my list for far too long - your recipe sounds perfect, and those pictures are just making my mouth water! I just found your blog via foodgawker (yep, I'm an addict) and I can't get enough. Cheers!

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  6. Your homemade falafels look and sound so delicious! I had to share on Pinterest. I just found your blog from your green smoothie recipe and it is wonderful!

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  7. OK I am making these right now! May need to brush up on my frying techniques as they seem a bit oily. Any suggestions? Also I think I should have ground the mixture a bit more. Otherwise, they taste great! :D

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    Replies
    1. Blot with paper towels after frying. Unfortunately to get them really crispy, you need to use oil. A lot of people bake them, and you could also try that for a healthier version.

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  8. I just finished making the Pita Bread! I have never made anything like it but your detailed instructions were perfect. Thank you. Next time I will making the falafels :)

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  9. I loved this recipe, however every time I cook the felafel's it sticks to the bottom of the frying pan!!! Im using a good amount of oil (partial frying, possible ¼ way up the felafel once emerged in oil) and it always sticks. I try to keep moving them around so they don't get stuck in one spot and not put too many in at a time but it always happens! Please help me as I end up loosing half the felafel as I get them out of the pan and try and re-roll them and bake in the oven to finish them off.

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    Replies
    1. That sounds so frustrating! I use a cast Iron skillet, and have never had a problem. Do you have one? Or even try a non stick pan? Right now…my guess is you using a stainless steel pan. Sometimes those can be very "sticky".

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  10. Wow! I have never had falafel, but these look and sound amazing! I'm looking to go semi-meatless (lol) and these seem like a good way to get some protein! I may have to visit the local Greek eatery and see if they have it on the menu for me to try. I was wondering if you might have the nutritional information for these?

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    Replies
    1. I don't…. I'm sorry. I do know that some people bake falafel instead of fry to cut down on the fat.

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    2. All of the recipes in this post speak to my heart. These are my comfort foods as well and you nailed them right down to the pickled turnips. Thank you for sharing these recipes and the memories that go with them. That tells me that these recipes really are something special.

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  11. This might be a silly question - but is it 2 cups of the garbanzo beans before or after soaking? I soaked 2 cups which doubled in size (to more than 4 cups) and now they won't all fit in my food processor! I'm wondering if it's only supposed to be 2 cups of them once they're soaked?

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    Replies
    1. Not a silly question! 2 cups soaked chickpeas!

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  12. Oops - I definitely did 2 cups of dried chickpeas which turned into like 4 cups of soaked ones. So now we'll be having falafel for dayzzzz!

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  13. I originally saw your recipe on Pinterest, and knew i had to try it out.
    I did a half recipe of the falafel and tahini sauce, and a full recipe of the pita bread, as it was just for me and my husband - who can be quite fussy at times. It was an outstanding success, he loved everything! Thank you for such a well detailed recipe, so easy to follow:)

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  14. I would really like your recipe but for some reason I can't see it? ?

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  15. Can the pita bread recipe be made gluten free?? If so, do you know what flours would work best??

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    Replies
    1. Yes, I was about to ask the same thing. What is the point of doing gluten free falafel with gluten bread?

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    2. Great question…I haven't tried making it with gf flour yet, but if you give it a whirl, please let us know. thanks!!

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